O, BOBO, WHERE ART THOU?
(And thou, too, Ezra?)
It doesn't surprise me when something David Brooks has written gets up my nose, but it upsets me when Ezra Klein praises Brooks:
Here's what Ezra is seconding, from Brooks's song of praise to Rick Santorum:
If you took a working-class candidate from the right, like Santorum, and a working-class candidate from the left, like Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and you found a few islands of common ground, you could win this election by a landslide. The country doesn’t want an election that is Harvard Law versus Harvard Law.
Let me respond by saying, first, that I think twice every time I play the class card on this blog using my own background. It's appropriate in this case, however: I'm a truck driver's kid, my parents didn't go to college, and now I have an Ivy League sheepskin and I've become one of those awful liberal sophisticates who uses words like "artisanal." In other words, I've been on both sides of this cultural divide. And I'm telling you that the economic non-elites have voted for plenty of elitists in their time -- where I grew up, the most revered presidents were JFK and FDR. The 99% can be manipulated into thinking that a candidate is too elite for them -- it still sticks in my craw that George H.W. Bush, of all people, had the unmitigated gall to say that immigrant's son Michael Dukakis had policies that were "born in Harvard Yard's boutique." (And it sticks in my craw even more that voters fell for that argument.) But the fact of the matter is, we vote for a lot of millionaires in this country -- we don't have much choice -- and most of us are just hoping one or two of them have some freaking empathy. And those of us on the left side of the ledger know there's no inevitable correlation between wealth and empathy -- grocer's daughter Maggie thatcher had none, for instance.
Brooks thinks Santorum is some sort of populist because he rejects certain aspects of right-wing laissez-faire. But now I'm going to play another card from my life, because I was baptized and confirmed in Santorum's Catholic Church before I went atheist, and I can see what his so-called concern for the downtrodden largely consists of:
A list of the government interventions that Santorum endorses includes national service, promotion of prison ministries, "individual development accounts," publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, economic literacy programs in "every school in America" (his italics), and more. Lots more.
Though he is a populist critic of Big Government, Santorum shows no interest in defining principled limits on political power. His first priority is to make government pro-family, not to make it small. He has no use for a constitutional (or, as far as one can tell, moral) right to privacy, which he regards as a "constitutional wrecking ball" that has become inimical to the very principle of the common good. Ditto for the notions of government neutrality and free expression. He does not support a ban on contraception, but he thinks the government has every right to impose one.
Yes, I might agree with Santorum on some of those programs, as might Sherrod Brown, but the full list suggests that he focuses on what he focuses on primarily to prove that Jesus knows what's best for you and Rick Santorum knows what Jesus thinks is best for you. But, of course, this is what Brooks likes about Santorum:
His economic arguments are couched as values arguments: If you want to enhance long-term competitiveness, you need to strengthen families. If companies want productive workers, they need to be embedded in wholesome communities.
Yeah, right -- that's why East Cowflop, Mississippi, with eighty-seven churches per person, is the economic dynamo of the planet, while New York and San Francisco are still struggling to emerge from the Third World.
BooMan has a lot more on Santorum's ultimately heartless list of policy positions -- though let me add that Santorum's not merely an advocate of ending Medicare as we know it, he is the most unabashed defender of Paul Ryan in the GOP presidential field. Not a lot of common ground with Sherrod Brown there. Oh, and as BooMan notes, Brown went to Yale (and is, by the way, a doctor's son).